By Becky Billingsley
Tuesday, August 9, 2011, Myrtle Beach - When Silvio Balistreri and Mona Peppers decided it was time to retire from their jobs in San Diego, Calif., they chose to launch new grueling and exhilarating careers as Myrtle Beach Quiznos franchise owners.
While living on the West Coast Balistreri was in construction, and Peppers worked in sales. They met online and married five years ago, and were looking for a place to retire. The couple had visited the Myrtle Beach area; Peppers is native to the southeast and has family here. When their brother-in-law told them a former Quiznos location was available in a building he owns off 38th Avenue North, they liquidated almost all their belongings and went online to lease a furnished home at Arcadian Shores in Myrtle Beach, sight unseen except for photos.
Then they had to learn how to become restaurant owners, which was a scary proposition, especially during a down economy. But they decided to reopen the Quiznos and undergo demanding training.
The five-week training period started with one week of online education that lasted eight hours per day. At the end of the week they took tests which they were required to pass with scores of at least 80 percent correct. They had to memorize many facts and health and safety issues such as the correct temperatures for cooking and holding foods.
Peppers had to take the test twice, because the first time as she clicked "send" to submit her test, there was a computer glitch and she had to start over. They both passed, and then commenced a three-week training period in another Quiznos.
"You learn to open, close and everything in between," Balistreri said on Aug. 3 in their light-filled restaurant. "We worked 12 hours a day. When you're training in another store you're just another employee."
The couple was exhausted after that stint, but they passed that level and moved on to the final step, which is a week of training at Quiznos corporate headquarters in Denver.
In February they opened their restaurant at 3735 Oleander Dr., and then the real education began.
Their company is called It's An Adventure, LLC, and Balistreri and Peppers say that's exactly what this foray into restaurant ownership has been. It's harder work than they imagined, but say they're up for the challenge.
"It has made me sympathetic with other restaurants," Peppers said. "I don't take big hunks of napkins [at other restaurants] any more, or expect a big plastic cup when I just want water for free. It sounds like little things, but when you're on the other side the cost of those things are big shocking surprises. It's hard to feel so stingy, but if you don't pay attention to things like that, there goes the profit."
"It's tough," Balistreri said. "I can build a high-rise skyscraper, but this kicked my butt physically and mentally. You can't take time off."
A new manager has helped ease their burden. Sagi Tiger is a young man with an accounting degree who has taken on much responsibility and "has a great work ethic." Their other six employees are also proving to be dependable and hard workers.
Now that they're five months into their adventure and have a reliable staff in place, they're starting to think they might be able to enjoy the two boats they brought with them from California. One is a Duffy electric boat they fondly refer to as a "floating cocktail lounge," and the other is a kayak with pedals and a sail.
But being able to occasionally enjoy the Grand Strand's waterways doesn't mean they're going to ease up on making their restaurant succeed. With her background in sales, Peppers knows making locals happy and an energetic and creative marketing strategy are important for success.
"Tourism is a gift, but this is our new home and we're going to look for a permanent home to buy," she said. We want to take care of locals...they are who we want to be most in contact with and take care of - our local people."
Toward that goal, they are creating marketing plans that demonstrate their pride in the ingredients that go into Quiznos salads, subs and soups, and how stringent the company is regarding health and safety standards. In addition to having unannounced inspections from the S.C. Dept. of Health and Environmental Control, Quiznos hires an independent company that goes beyond what DHEC requires.
"You have to stay within a certain percentage to keep your franchise," Balistreri said. "There are 480 points they inspect. You don't have to wear [disposable food-handling] gloves in South Carolina, but we do, and we change them about a million times a day."
They also have customer reward cards - buy six and get one free - and offer discounts to baseball players and their families who attend the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach. As they figure out which types of marketing work best for them, they are enjoying getting to know local customers.
"Lots of locals come in and remember our names and will come sit for an hour," Peppers said. "We do love and appreciate our guests, and we have a great crew. We treat them well, and they treat us well, and that's the way it should be."
Diners can check out this Quiznos at 3735 Oleander Dr., in an outparcel near the Bi-Lo shopping center at 38th Ave. N. and U.S. 17 Bypass. It's open daily for lunch and dinner, and the number is (843) 839-4782.